My Father and My Sons #FathersDay

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What Is A Father?

By Vincent Young

Father’s Day used to make me think of that Harry Chapin song, “Cat’s in the Cradle,” until I heard Yusuf Islam’s (formerly Cat Stevens) song, “Father and Son.” The latter seems more appropriate now that my eldest has hit his tween years. Wikipedia has a nice history of Islam’s song. It’s about a father and son arguing over life choices, the complacency of age, and the impatience of youth.

My eldest and I have not had any major disagreements yet. The only thing that we argue over is his poor treatment of his younger brother. Otherwise, he and I get along fine. At 12, he is not afraid to hold my hand in public. I tell him he doesn’t have to. I don’t want his friends laughing at him. He tells me that it’s okay. Holding my hand makes him feel confident. This makes my heart swell.

I know he is jealous of his younger brother. I still take his brother to school. He goes on his own and while he enjoys his newfound freedom, he does ask every now and then if he can come with his brother and me. The three of us used to go to school together all the time. I tell him, No. He wouldn’t make it to his school on time. He “Awwws!” but I know he understands. As he grows and changes our relationship will change (and if we take care to nurture it and remain patient enough with one another our relationship will grow too).

There’s a picture of the three of us taken when he was a pre-tween. He’s climbing over my shoulder, while his brother sits slightly frowning on my lap. He and I are laughing. My youngest — his brother — looks uneasily off camera. It’s one of my favorite pictures. The three of us still take pictures together but I am too old and they are getting too big to climb over my shoulders.

There are pictures of me with my father. One of my favorites was taken when I was maybe just slightly younger than my youngest in the picture I just described. It had to have been taken at my first birthday. My father is holding my bare foot up to the camera. It is covered in cake frosting. I must have accidentally stepped on my birthday cake. Everyone is laughing. I am still very young and accidents like this one are still very cute. I’m not sure when my missteps stopped being cute, but they did.

My father used to take me fishing when I was the age my eldest is now. I don’t know that we spoke during these trips. I would usually just fall asleep in the back seat but at the time it was important to me to be with him on these trips. This went on for a while until one morning in the wee hours when my father came to wake me. I told him that I just wanted to sleep more. I haven’t taken my children fishing, but we do a lot of other things together. I dread the day my eldest tells me that he “just wants to sleep more,” but I also know that if I’ve done this parenting thing right that day must come (for him and for his brother).

As father and son, my father and I weren’t Eddie and his father, Mr. Brady and Greg, or Mr. Huxtable and Theo but I want to believe we had our own way. My father didn’t have the benefit of sitcom dads like I’ve had. I try to be Tom Corbett (Eddie’s father), Mike Brady, and Heathcliff Huxtable rolled into one and seasoned with second-generation Chinese immigrant beliefs and values. My sons will be third-generation Chinese in America. I don’t know that they’ll have access to the same seasoning I’ve used but if they become dads, I hope they’ll take their children “fishing” just like my father took me and I’ve taken them.